November 6, 2011

Don’t Dream It, Be It

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I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey. It starts in 1975, and stretches up until this very day, traveled at midnight by costume-clad deviants from around the world. Over the past weekend, you too may have wandered along it — I certainly did. I am, of course, referring to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Rocky Horror is often seen as the quintessential cult film. In most cases, a cult film is simply one that has a particularly obsessive fanbase, but Rocky Horror‘s cult is a good deal more literal than that. An entire subculture has grown up around the movie — dressing in skimpy costumes, yelling things at the screen, throwing toast, et cetera. Going to Rocky has in many ways become a rite of passage for young drama nerds, punks, and other malcontents.

Furthermore, there’s a good chance that those malcontents’ parents saw Rocky when they were in high school; after all, the midnight showings of the movie have been playing continuously since the seventies. It’s a movie that’s served as an introduction into the spicier aspects of adulthood — sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll — to almost three generations. And, indeed, when I first told my parents that I was going to be in the show, the reaction was not as I expected. I had a scenario in my mind of them being scandalized at the impropriety of it all; instead, they just scoffed at me. As it turns out, they had seen the movie back in their day, and so instead of being taken aback by my youthful rebellion they simply shook their heads at what they perceived as my generation’s lack of originality.

Can Rocky Horror really serve as an initiation into the ways of bohemian decadence if it’s something Mom and Dad used to do? I’d say it can. After all, what’s the plot of the film? That’s a question I have trouble answering even after repeated viewings, but I’ll try my best: young, virginal, relentlessly square couple accidentally stumble upon mouldering mansion full of depraved hypersexual weirdos and soon find themselves drawn into a life of hedonism, nonconformity and genderbending. It all plays like a fifties monster movie, with Dr. Frank N. Furter (the most hedonistic and nonconformist character of them all) in the role of the mad scientist and villain, yet the curious thing about the movie is that no one really seems to root for Brad and Janet (the young squares) to escape Frank’s clutches; rather, the audience’s sympathies are squarely with Frank. Frank represents transgression, glamour, and above all freedom — the freedom to do whatever you want, no matter how ridiculous, and look damn sexy doing it.

So just as your average teenage proto-counterculturalist watching the film enjoys making fun of Brad and Janet, they also see themselves in the characters. After all, isn’t the average Rocky viewer attempting to escape from the regular workaday world into a life of mindless pleasures? Don’t they want to ditch their pastel dresses and cardigans and exchange them for fishnets and leather? It’s this parallel between the experience of the characters in Rocky Horror and the audience that has caused the film — and the rituals associated with it — to resonate across generations.Of course, one can’t ignore the fact that Frank does some pretty horrific things throughout the course of the film. And that’s another integral part of Rocky Horror‘s message: Yes, hedonism and decadence can be fun, but if you let them run your life bad things can happen. As much as Brad and Janet represent love without sex, Frank represents sex without love, or indeed any sort of feeling whatsoever. Ultimately, the message of Rocky is that there’s no crime in giving one’s self over to pleasure — just so long as it means something. To me, the real sympathetic characters in the film are Columbia and Eddie, a tragic teenage couple straight out of a Shangri-La’s song. They’re rebels, they wear outlandish clothes, they’re free with their affections, yet it’s quite apparent that they truly love each other.

So the ritual of Rocky Horror is an introduction both to some of the excitement and some of the fear that comes with adulthood, and it shows a way through the tangled maze of love and lust — either that, or it’s just an excuse to dress in costumes and scream at a movie. But either way, a good time is had by all.

Aidan Bonner is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at abonner@cornellsun.com. The Weather Report appears alternate Mondays this semester.

Original Author: Aidan Bonner